by Marina Thomas
He relished the feeling of victory at that tender age and is now relishing leading the youngest of the seven Volvo crews onboard Team Alvimedica.
All but one of the team is in their late twenties or early thirties, with three-time Volvo veteran Will Oxley, 49, known as the ‘principal’ because of his headteacher-like wisdom. As well as flying an American flag, the boat also displays a Turkish flag symbolising its sponsorship by young Turkish medical supplies company, Alvimedica.
The team was the surprise winner of the opening in-port race in Alicante, but came in a ‘disappointing’ fifth on Leg 1 into Cape Town. With the start of Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi yesterday, can enthusiasm and a ‘hunger and willingness to learn’ triumph over the years of experience of the other teams?
“I have mixed feelings about Leg 1,” said Enright ahead of the South Africa departure. “There’s a sense of accomplishment for getting it done, and we finished ahead of two good teams. In some regards we surprised ourselves, but there were also some opportunities we didn’t capitalize on. The team’s in a good spot moving forward.
“Importantly, the team started to gel. We learned a lot and were sailing faster at the finish than the start.”
Enright, a Business Economics graduate from Brown University, built the team from scratch alongside general manager/watch captain Mark Towill, 25.
The pair first met on the set of Disney sailing movie, Morning Light seven years ago. Volvo Ocean Race veterans coached the youngsters and inspired by their stories, they set about making their own Disney-like dream of creating a campaign come true.
“We are not a favourite to win so the pressure is different,” says Charlie.
“We are a committed group, all on the same page and in it for the same reasons. This has been a dream of Mark and mine. When we came to Alicante to watch the start of the last race, we made the commitment to put together a young team.
“We have found a great sponsor partnership with another young company that shares the same brand values as us.
“One of the strengths we have as a young team is that we learn quickly and as the marine technology available develops quickly we are able to embrace that.”
There is 17 years separating Australian navigator Will and the next oldest crew member, but the marine biologist says his fresh teammates are ‘hungry, keen and have a thirst for knowledge.’
“They will grow and improve quickly as they have a steeper learning curve than other teams. You will see good things from us,” he says.
“There is a lot more experience here than people give the guys credit for. Having said that, 25 days at sea will be new for some of them.
“We need to have a watch system that is sustainable. Management of yourself is something you learn with experience, although we have worked on how to maintain intensity for prolonged periods.
“You need to be tough and resilient to do this. The constant grind and lack of sleep means it is essential you are good under pressure. You can win and lose Leg 1 in the final approach to Cape Town.
“Your motivation goes in pulses. When bad things happen you have to have a long term goal.
“I need to watch out for the guys not eating and sleeping properly. You can get through a short Sydney Hobart Race without sleeping or eating, but here you will get sick when going at full pelt.
“I have been in enough disasters that I know when one is about to happen,” Will adds.
According to the veteran, who has four circumnavigations under his belt, Skipper Charlie is a good strategist.
“Charlie knows how to lead but also listen, which bodes well.”
Charlie and Matt spent a lot of time selecting and deciding on the crew make up. They are not set in their ways and are clearly very smart and dynamic.
Historically, Volvo Race teams have selected the best people in their field – the best trimmer, the best driver, but that doesn’t always lead to success on the race track. The event has a long history of crew changes.
Watch captain, New Zealander Ryan Houston, 32, has done two previous Volvo Races. He says the team appreciates learning from Will by sitting in the nav station with him.
“We call him the ‘principal’ as he is like a teacher. He has a lot of life lessons. Most of what we have not seen he has seen.
“We are confident of our speed in the inshore racing but not so confident offshore with the endurance aspect and which helmsman will be best for heavier conditions,” Ryan adds.
The team has had a safety-first culture instilled, led by Will.
“I have seen things go very wrong. I have been upside down, in life rafts and in helicopters. In some areas, there is a potential the crew don’t understand the risk they are about to take, or they may think something is risky when it’s not and they need to push harder. That’s where my age and experience come in.”
There has also been an intense fitness training programme with various trainers to reach the levels required to perform in the intense conditions.
“We may be the youngest, but we have crossed the Atlantic twice in practice, and sometimes having a beer together in Rhode Island is a part of team building too. We are modest. We know we will improve as we go round.
“We are all ambitious and hungry for it. This is the opportunity we have been waiting for many years,” Charlie adds.
“I don’t know if we can win it but I am looking forward to trying.”
Marina is press officer for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and enjoys living out of a suitcase while traveling as much as possible. She also works as a freelance journalist and is a news addict, London and Sydney lover, trance music aficionado and sports and adventure nut. Her website: http://www.marinathomas.com/